The Bright Insider with Little Tiger Editor, Becky Davies
At Bright we are interested by all facets of the publishing world. We support our artists in finding work with publishing houses globally and many of us have worked in various areas of publishing, giving us a great all round view on growing and evolving as a business. A great deal of work goes into the making of a children’s book and there are so many wonderfully creative people involved. We spoke to Becky Davies, editor at Little Tiger Press, who in her own words, is still relatively new to the publishing industry.
It’s great to see things from a different perspective and wonderful to know that children’s publishing is a place where you can grow and nurture your career, which is just brilliant – when you consider that children’s books are made to do exactly that during childhood!
Becky, can you talk us through your career in publishing, including key milestones & your current position at Little Tiger Press?
I’m still relatively new to the publishing industry with three years’ experience in full time paid positions. A career in publishing had never even occurred to me until I was in my final year of an English literature degree at university, but I’ve always had an overriding passion for children’s books and thought it would be amazing if I could somehow incorporate that into my full time job. I didn’t start in Editorial – my first position was actually as Sales, Marketing and Rights Assistant at children’s fiction publisher Chicken House – most famous for Inkheart, The Maze Runner, and of course for the legend that is Barry Cunningham, the great discoverer of Harry Potter himself! Working for a small publisher is definitely something I’d recommend, as in my short time with the company I became directly involved in the creation of their books at many different levels, and gained key insight into the different departments and how they operate. In fact, Chicken House is so tiny that most departments are made up of only one or two people! It was an incredible experience to be part of such a small yet wonderfully creative and dynamic team, and my year there left me feeling confident and ready to delve deeper into the wide world of Publishing. I applied for a Junior Editor vacancy for the Custom Publishing list at picture book publisher, Little Tiger Press, and was successful despite a lack of prior editorial experience partly thanks to my understanding of the sales and marketing side of the business. The team works on a hugely diverse range of books and book plus products, and I’ve loved the fast pace and scope for creativity since day one. After a year and a half with Little Tiger I was promoted to my current role of Editor, and these days work on projects as varied as baby ranges, anthologies, novelty books and adult colouring!
How did you begin a career in Publishing?
Like most people I had a couple of work experience placements before my career began in earnest, and these were invaluable not only in terms of the knowledge I gained about the industry but also in regards to the connections (and lifelong friends) I made along the way. My first placement was with the wonderful children’s editor, Lucy Cuthew, who was the first person to tell me that I would suit an editorial role; before this I had no idea of the different departments in publishing, or which I’d like to work in. Without Lucy’s advice and support I definitely wouldn’t be where I am today. In fact, it was she who put me in touch with the Literary Agent, Eve White, with whom I was then offered a two-month internship. Seeing how the agency side of Publishing works was fascinating to me and is something I still find useful today, as I now understand the journey that authors and illustrators have been on even before they secure a publishing deal. Besides running a successful and innovative agency, Eve was also hugely supportive of my career, and it was she who put my name forward when Chicken House were recruiting.
What advice would you give for those looking to work in Publishing?
Work experience was really key in kick-starting my career, but anyone will tell you how hard it is to even secure a work experience placement in the industry. Don’t give up! Join The Society of Young Publishers and check The Bookseller for placements, as well as looking at individual Publisher and Agency websites. Apply for as many work experience placements as you can, and as soon as you’ve secured one it’ll get so much easier. Make the most of your internships by asking plenty of questions and being helpful and interested. Remember that children’s publishing especially is a small world, and you never know who you’re going to cross paths with again.
Are there any specific content, subject matters that writers and illustrators of children’s books should concentrate on? Are there subjects that are not well received and best avoided, or is every story a possibility?
The children’s picture book market has developed in some really interesting ways in the last few years, and publishers are bringing out ever more inventive and unique titles. Whilst there will always be room for well-written traditional stories, I think originality is becoming key. The books I find the most exciting are those that are completely fresh and quirky, or which have a spin on well-trodden themes. Whilst this also applies to illustration, I’d advise illustrators to simply know their strengths and play to those – not everyone is suited to an ultra contemporary look and there’s still a huge market for more traditional illustration.
What has been one of your favourite projects to work on so far?
There have been so many that it’s hard to choose just one! But I absolutely love the lift the flap Peekaboo books that we’ve developed with illustrator Gareth Lucas (Peekaboo 123 and Peekaboo A to Z out this month). Gareth’s hilarious animal illustrations bring such a quirky twist to these concept books, and there’s so much detail and vibrancy in the artwork. They were great fun to work on and write text for.
Are there any current projects you can tell us about – even little snippets of details?
We’re awhirl with new projects at the moment, but one that we’re really excited about is an adult colouring book series – a real departure for Little Tiger. It may seem like the colouring market is fast becoming oversaturated, but these books are a fresh take on the genre. Each title is based on a work of classic literature, with gorgeous line work capturing the themes and motifs of the novel. There’s even a handpicked quotation on every spread! The Colouring Classics series kicks off in June with Pride and Prejudice and Romeo and Juliet. Watch this space!
What do you look for in an illustrator?
Because a Custom Publishing department produces so many different types of books, what we’re looking for in terms of style varies greatly from project to project. However I often browse agency websites searching for appropriate illustrators, and those with a wealth of samples of all the styles they work in are most likely to be the ones I progress further. For example, if you can draw both people and animals, make sure you show enough examples of both!
What are you favourite children’s books, and why?
I am a huge fan of Oliver Jeffers because his style is so iconic and his stories are in equal parts humorous and thought provoking. The synergy between the illustrations and text is always flawless, and that’s something I think is key in making successful picture books. The Heart in the Bottle is one of my all time favourite books because it works on many levels, almost adapting itself to suit different audiences. Plus it made me sob!
What do you like about working with Bright artists?
A lot of our projects are on super tight schedules, and we rely on the lightning responses from Agents like the ones at Bright. We’ve found the illustrators they’ve matched us to are very talented, incredibly flexible and easy to communicate with. It sounds like a small thing, but it really does make my job 100 times easier.
Thanks to Becky for such a thoughtful and inspiring read!